Thanks Emma! Tokani's kind of based on my own horse.
"But how can you be a wordweaver?" said one of the Kasi warriors, Daymi, her long, tangled hair slung over her shoulder, a slash of blood across her cheek. "You never showed any indication before."
Shock shot through me that I'd actually said what I had. But then I realized I'd have to spin some lies in order to make this true.
"I had magic before. I just kept it hidden."
"All this time? Why?"
"Because I didn't know how to use it."
"Its power would've burned you."
"That's why I had to find Revall. He's been teaching me." That part was true. Sort of. It surprised me how easy it was to lie; I hadn't had much practice in it.
"When did you get magic?" said another.
"When I was fourteen."
He gasped. The others murmured—at least, the Kasi; the Rajel couldn't understand a word of this conversation, though they must've realized something out of the ordinary was happening.
"You must have great magic," said another. "It's almost unheard-of to get magic at that age."
"I don't see how she could keep it hidden," said Daymi. "We would've seen evidence of it."
"When she was fourteen, she was at the Magic Academy."
"She told us she didn't have magic when she came back."
"She just saved us! How can you doubt her? Besides, the evidence is before you."
"I see why she would lie to the Ardayn. I don't see why she'd lie to us."
That I didn't have an answer to. An uncomfortable feeling squirmed in my stomach. I was lying to them now. How would I get out of this? But how else could I have explained what happened?
"Fralenn!" said Revall, striding through the crowd toward me. He laid a hand on my shoulder. "What did you tell them?" he said in a soft voice.
"That I have magic."
"I couldn't tell them the truth! Besides, it is true."
"Words of Power are wild. They're not a part of you like other magic is. You can't always make them do what you want—you have to be very careful with them."
"I will! I had to do something."
"I should've been here for you so you wouldn't have to. I'm not sure what you can do other than keep pretending to be a wordweaver. To do that, you'll have to show you can control three of the elements."
"Why not four?"
"Because that'd mean you're the Prophesied, Taytha Reborn. I don't think we want to draw that much attention to you."
"Oh. Right." As awkward as this situation was, it'd be nothing compared to what would happen if Regent Mordeth believed I was the Prophesied.
I felt better now that Revall was with me. He'd know what to do. Perhaps I should've waited for him to come up with an explanation—or I should've said something, anything, besides that I had magic. Now Revall was complicit in the lie.
No, it wasn't a lie. I would just have to make it true—as much as I could, anyway. I'd have what I'd always dreamed of. Magic of my own.
I glanced back at the Kasi, who were scattering into the desert. "I told them I didn't have magic before."
He frowned. "You could tell them you didn't want to endanger them. If word got to Mordeth that a powerful wordweaver was also an heir to the throne—"
"He'd kill people to get to me. I know."
"But now, you've learned enough from me that you can protect yourself and others." He shook his head. "Lying doesn't sit well with me."
"It doesn't have to be a lie."
"It is, Fralenn. At least keep the truth and lies separate in your heart. Otherwise, words will lose their potency altogether."
"I do have magic."
"You are a conduit. The words are magic. If you knew what could happen if a true wordweaver said them…." Pain flashed across his eyes. He meant the death of his family at his own hands.
Okay, so I was lying unequivocally. That made me feel worse. A counterfeit mage, who didn't have any right to call herself a wizard. A liar, someone who twisted words for her own gain. But if I didn't do this, I'd have to break my vow to Revall—and unleash terrible power on the world.
I'd traded one wrong thing for another. These words were my responsibility. I'd have to live with that.
The sun became a liquid smear at the edge of the horizon, then dipped beneath it, leaving the sky painted orange. I walked out into the cool of dusk, Tokani following me. The first star pricked the sky—according to the Kasi, it was one of their ancestors. They seemed to sing with a silent music of their own, piercing and cold and sorrowful. Tokani stepped up beside me and rubbed her head on my arm. I swung up into the saddle and rode home across the cool blue sand.
I flopped into bed and descended into dreams. Far from the screech of metal, the smell of gunpowder, the screams of enemies and friends.
Someone was holding me down—I struggled, fighting the hands that smothered me—
I gasped awake, unable to quench my thirst for air. I grasped the sheets as I fought to breathe.
Light poured into my room from the open window. It melted the web of dreams and I stepped into the sunlight, letting it drench me.
What a strange, horrible dream—though I barely remembered any of it. I shivered despite the warmth, my body aching.
Hazily I walked into the kitchen where Revall was preparing breakfast. He set two eggs and a thick piece of bread with jam in front of me. I tore off a big chunk of bread. Its rich grainy texture filled my mouth, along with the sweetness of the vosa-berry jam.
"How do you feel?" he said, a little hesitantly.
"Good." I swallowed. "I ache all over though."
"That's to be expected. I can give you some aloe salve."
"I must've had some dream. I don't know what I could've done to feel like this…."
He tipped his head, looked at me strangely. A tickle nagged at the back of my mind; I ignored it. He sat down and stabbed an egg with his fork.
We ate in silence. Despite the sunlight dancing through the room, I felt increasingly dark inside. Cold, as if a shadow had fallen over me. I choked on my egg and put it down.
He looked startled, concerned. "What is it?"
"I—don't really feel very well."
"You don't have to eat any more. Why don't you lie down."
I nodded and walked slowly to the couch. I picked up a book from the table and flipped to a random page.And Queen Tayranayr stepped onto Nef T'Har, and Sovereign Gho'luivh met her on the shore beneath the shadow of the Palace of Bones. Seafoam sprayed like lace, the sea like dark green glass, shattering. The lightning ripped the sky as the thunder drowned out their words.
And Tayranayr strode into the palace, her crown glittering like the sword of Mazayr. And she stood before Gho'luivh and demanded the peace and safety of her people as the giants surrounded her, menacing teeth like sharp pearls, tattoos whispering curses against the intruder.
A barbed dagger gleamed behind her and it thrust through her robe, but she twisted aside and slashed her sword into the shoulder of the traitor.
The Queen seized peace once and for all and received a ring of black pearl as a seal and rode back across the waves in triumph as Hiyel's rays pierced the clouds, scattering the darkness to the four corners of the earth.
The cascade of words soothed me already, sweeping me into a dream of long ago when Ardaynenn was whole and peaceful. Queen Tayranayr had sparked a golden age where freedom and nobility had flourished. If I'd lived back then, I wouldn't have had to worry about Mordeth trying to kill me. My parents would be alive and we would live in a unified country which still believed in honor. Ah to live in those days! I loved the desert but something tugged at my soul whenever I thought of Ardaynenn, of what could have been. But that past was long lost and I doubted whether anything could bring it back. I could only read of it in books now.
I flipped to the next page. It told of a court intrigue, when the Thamadhs had tried to undermine Tayranayr's rule. I was used to thinking of the Thamadhs as good guys but of course it hadn't been that way throughout history. Mom had been a Ritha, after all, and so was the true Queen, Trisaykwith, a sweet, gentle girl by all accounts whose reign was usurped by her uncle. But under Mordeth Ritha the country lived under repression; he had cornered the Thamadhs in the far west, and killed all, including my parents, who were a threat to the regime.
At the end of the story, Taranayr discovered the plot because she was a thoughtspeaker. Thoughtspeakers were often devious, if not outright villains, all throughout history. But there were exceptions—Tayranayr the best of all.
I dove into all her stories till I got to her daughter's reign—which was a good story too, if not quite as exciting. Then I set the book down and lay back on the couch. I'd love to be like Tayranayr. Not a queen, not a thoughtspeaker, but someone noble and full of truth and light, committed to honor and freedom. She embodied all that Ardaynenn was supposed to be. And I—well, the sinking feeling in my stomach told me I'd never live up to her standards or those of my parents.
Thoughts and feelings from yesterday crept up on me. Just thinking about the lie made my stomach turn over. Why had I done it? I never lied if I could help it. The reason was a bit blurry at the moment. Fear pressed at the edge of the memory; I didn't know if I wanted to look at it directly.
But the moment persisted, a pinpoint in time, and I faced it: me standing in the ripped skyship, revealing that I had magic. I almost laughed. How ridiculous! I didn't have magic. But I did have the weight of the magic words pressing on my heart….
The rest of the images tumbled into my mind and I couldn't hold them back anymore, though they didn't fall into any sort of order. Tokani stomping on my attacker… Daru cleansing my cheek…the shower of berries…the gleam of restet's teeth…the slash of Captain Stav's sword…Maji's screams….Samari's swift doomed fight—and then my mind rushed back to the beginning—the sandblast and the three black shapes against the red sky.
It wasn't as bad as I thought, not once I faced it in daylight. Not even lying—I had a reason for that. And Revall agreed with me. He'd teach me new magic words; I wouldn't have to beg for them anymore. And perhaps I'd just needed some rest, some sleep to even things out. We'd won, after all. No one I cared about had died, though some had been seriously wounded. A pang pierced my heart when I thought of Maji. I needed to go see him.
I said a prayer to Tanverath, goddess of magic, begging her forgiveness for lying. Then I prayed to Taytha for his intercession. I hoped he listened—I knew he was kind but I wasn't always sure if he had time for everyone, especially someone as insignificant and incorrigible as me.
I swung my legs over the couch and set the book back on the table, careful to leave Revalls' marker in place. I felt a little dizzy to my dismay but I sat still for a moment and it subsided. I looked out the window; Revall was tending his garden. I grabbed the rest of my bread from breakfast and dashed out the door.
Revall heaved a bucket of sand over the stone wall. "Are you feeling better?" he asked as I walked up to him.
"Yeah. I think it was just…the craziness of yesterday." I walked through the gate. "And this whole deal with the magic words I have to get used to." The garden was mostly unscathed, except a dune had formed over the northern wall, crushing a prickly pear.
"I'll see if I can salvage any of these—but it could've been a lot worse." He looked around the garden, shaded by palms and fruit trees, lush kai reeds along the river. He looked at me. "I can teach you some more Words of Power this afternoon, if you like."
"Sure." My heart flipped at the prospect—I both dreaded and longed for more words; more to be responsible for, but also essential pieces of who I was—like a part of me was missing and the words fulfilled me. I must be meant for them if I feel that way…. "Right now I want to go see Maji. Do you need any help, though?"
"No, I'll stop before the sun gets much higher anyway. I may come to the village when I'm finished."
He nodded slowly, as if not quite sure of the prospect. I hoped he came. He had no reason to avoid them; he might even have a good time.
"I'll see you later!" I stepped carefully through the rows of melon, peppers and squash, the shade cool on my skin, the palms rustling above me. I picked a sugar-orange and peeled it as I walked. When I reached the river, I saw Tokani tearing up kai reeds on the opposite bank. I whistled and her head shot up, long reeds sticking out of both sides of her mouth. She jumped into the river and splashed over to me. I scratched her forehead and led her to a large rock then I sprang onto her smooth back.
Guiding her with my calves and my hands, I urged her back across the river and I drank in the wind as we galloped across the plain to the Kasi camp.
At the outskirts of the camp, a flock of tora scattered, screeching in alarm. In a few moments, the dog-sized reptiles disappeared, their gray-brown bodies blending with the sand. Closer to the river, horses grazed, the silver and gold of their coats flashing with the shifting shadows and sunlight. A tall sentry at Maji's tent strode up to me.
He saluted, touching his hand to his forehead. I returned the gesture. "Hi, Fralenn."
"Hi, Jora. How is he?"
Jora's face tightened. "Those Dawi raspekh! If I'd been there I'd have torn them to pieces! But Maji ordered me to stay here with his family."
"You will get your revenge."
His black eyes sparked. "The one who did it is dead, I hear."
"Revall killed him." Respect filled his voice. "And…it was you who made it possible."
"You gave us a view of the enemy so we could kill them. It is good that you finally have magic."
"May I go inside?"
"Of course. Maji is resting but he is much better. Also, the ones who fell from the sky are here. It will be better now that you can give us their words."
I swung to the ground, puffs of dust rising where my boots landed. As Tokani wandered off to join the Kasi's herd, Jora lifted the door of the tent with his sword and tiny silver bells on the fabric jingled, frightening away evil spirits. The narrow hallway spread out into the large main room where people lounged, speaking in soft voices. Tula, Maji's youngest, played with a doll in the corner near her father.
Maji was propped up on red and gold pillows; he looked drowsy but awake. Three other men lay near him. To the right was the healer, asleep, his face drawn with exhaustion. To the left were Commander Doma and Captain Stav. Pren knelt beside her father, seemingly oblivious to everything else. Other Rajel, some that I didn't recognize, sat along the edge of the tent, talking among themselves.
Samari sat near the door, polishing her sword. She stood as I entered, and her leg nearly buckled. Shame crossed her eyes but she stood tall, as if trying to pretend her injury didn't exist.
"Why are you here?" she asked.
"I came to see your father. How is he?"
"Fralenn!" said Maji heartily, as if to belie her words. "Come here!"
I walked across the intricately pattered red rug, glinting with silver and gold horsehair.
He tried to get up, his face wracked with pain. I caught him by the arm and knelt beside him, lowering him back to the cushions.
"Don't get up!"
"I'm fine. I just need to get moving."
"You need to rest."
"The healer took away the worst of it. A warrior shouldn't be kept in bed."
"If you rest just a little longer, you'll be able to do whatever you want. But if you move around, you might make it worse."
"You sound like Talu." He looked at the healer, and a shadow crossed his eyes. "I should not have given him such pain…"
"You would've died."
"The raspekh almost reached your heart. They tore it out of you—I heard you scream."
"I don't remember any of that. A chief should not show weakness."
"You couldn't help it. No one could have. You withstood against the Dawi—you didn't let him wrench anything from you."
"I'm not sure what I would have done if he'd hurt you."
"He didn't get a chance. Samari attacked."
He looked at Samari with a gaze of unfiltered affection. "She is her mother's daughter." He looked at me quizzically. "I hear that your actions allowed us to defeat them. Is this true?"
"You have magic!" He clasped my hand, his grip still strong despite his ordeal. "When did this happen?"
"When I was fourteen."
"Ah, you must be a great mage! But you kept it secret from us."
"I wanted to be able to control my magic. If an accident happened and I was close to you, word might get out to Mordeth there was a powerful mage here."
"Good foresight. It had to be hard to keep your magic hidden."
"That's why I went to Revall."
He smiled. "It all makes sense now. Why you did not come back to the tribe after you stopped going to the Magic Academy."
"I needed Revall to train me."
"There's no greater wizard." Going to the Magic Academy made more sense if I'd had magic. So did coming to stay with Revall after I left. I couldn't really explain it otherwise, more a feeling than a thought. I'd gone to Revall as if drawn by a magnet. He was an Ardayn outcast like me. And he had magic basically thrumming off of him. I had to be close to that power, the words he could turn to fire.
"When we were captured, I had to use it. I was finally getting it under control." My story, my pretense, was falling into place. I was becoming more comfortable with it.
"I wish I remembered more….all I can recall is seeing the blue of the sky and hoping I was with the ancestors…." He gave an apologetic look, as if ashamed for wishing the end of such horrific pain.
"It wasn't all that spectacular. I mean, I wasn't fighting."
"You fought in your own way. You were crucial to our victory." He lifted his hand—it shook a little—and slid his fingers gently down my cheek. "It makes sense you'd have magic. You've always had a magic of your own, my little lira."
I looked away, hoping he wouldn't see the guilt in my eyes. I had been crucial to their victory. But I still felt a fraud, a counterfeit. I suppose it wouldn't be good if I ever felt completely at ease with deception.
"Your magic must be windsong, right?"
Before I could answer, large dark eyes in a copper-tan face popped up beside me. Little Tula, clutching her doll. "Hi Lenni! Did you come to play with me?"
"She doesn't want to play with you, silly," said Luma, her older sister, tall and thin as a kai reed, freckles dotted over her face. Her long dark blond hair was slung over her shoulder and she held a book in her hand.
"But she always used to play with me!"
"That's when she used to live with us."
"I'll play with you—in just a minute." I looked up at Luma. "What book are you reading?"
She smiled. "It's The Song of the Stars." She handed it to me, its cloth binding soft as a gentle touch from a friend.
"That's a good one." I'd given it to her a long time ago.
"She always asks Sanai to bring back a book when she goes to trade," said Maji. "You two are true sisters."
"Can I go tomorrow, Papa?" said Luma.
"You're sending another trading expedition?" I said. "So soon?"
"We need to get supplies for the Rajel so we can trade them for the new ammunition," said Maji. "Would you like to go with Luma?"
"I'm not sure that I should."
"Mordeth hasn't reached Chokehold yet."
"I'm still not sure if…my magic is under enough control."
"Only go if you feel up to it. One thing that we'd appreciate is if you'd teach the Rajel a civilized language." He smiled broadly in lieu of a laugh.
"I can translate for you. And I will try to teach them, if they let me."
"We need to make sure we have all the details for the trade deal. I believe that man—" He flung his arm out toward the Rajel, wincing—"is the one in charge of trade."
"That one?" I indicated the large man lounging on pillows at the far left of the tent.
"Yes. His name is Bayda or something like that. I tried to talk to him but neither of us can understand one another. I'd appreciate it if you'd tell him that I'd like to speak with him."
"Of course. How are the others?"
Maji frowned. "Well, I was the priority. One of the healers helped them, but she did it a bit half-heartedly, if you ask me. Would you mind telling Jora to send for another healer?"
"Sure." I got to my feet.
Little Tula grasped my hand. "When will you play with me?"
"After I go see the Rajel."
"They have fire hair!"
"No, they don't."
"Don't touch it!"
"Don't worry, I'm not about to do that."
I walked past Samari cleaning her pistol into the hallway and relayed the message to Jora, who called for a runner to the healer's tent. Then I came back in and walked toward the eastern wall where the Rajel sat.
I felt a little apprehensive myself. The Rajel who were conscious were not the ones I knew. But I gathered my courage and stepped up to them.
"Hi," I said.
"Who're you?" said the big man, hefting himself to his feet. A Rajel soldier stepped in front of me, his hand on his pistol.